reCAP :: Phil Lesh & Friends :: 2016.10.29
Walking up the street towards the theatre, I was instantly rushed with excitement, as I saw all of the happily eager faces engaging in friendly interaction on the street corner. Being about five months since Phil was last here, it felt like I was about to see an old friend for the first time in too long.
Phil & Friends, or any Grateful Dead related show at The Cap, is always an experience unlike any other. In addition to this marveled music, there is a community of beings that collectively share the whole experience with each other. Whether it is friendly conversation, a big hug, or even the atmosphere alone, anybody can feel welcome. To any newcomer, the community will provide open arms, instantly making them a part of the grand scheme that is the Capitol Theatre. Last night was in no way an exception to this amazing element.
Phil’s musical philosophy is nothing different from his past methods while playing with the Grateful Dead. His principles have always been to make each night and each song as different as possible. However, Phil takes this ideology to new heights by frequently changing up the performers for each run of shows, allowing each member to provide their individual uniqueness to the music. For night two of the three night run dubbed, “Phil-o-Ween,” the band consisted of JRAD/WOLF! guitarist Scott Metzger, along with other guitarist, Luther Dickinson, pedal steel/guitarist Barry Sless, drummer John Molo, keyboardist Jason Crosby and singer Nicki Bluhm. For the latter, this run of shows was her Capitol Theatre debut as one of Phil’s “friends,” and what an incredible debut it has been.
After a little finger loosening/soundchecking noodles, “Jack Straw” kicked off the first set, instantly providing the audience with the, “tonight is going to be a good night” feeling. Then, the band gave a nod to Pigpen with a bouncy, “I’m a King Bee” followed by a smooth “High Time,” to break things down a bit. Bringing the energy back, Phil and company played a very pleasing “Big Railroad Blues” before providing the first set highlight, “Bird Song.” I do not know what it is about this song, but it seems that most modern incarnations of the Dead, especially when involving Phil, will use it as an opportunity for tremendous jamming. Usually creating a beautiful “Dark Star-esque” jam filled with cathartic, swaying psychedelia that perfectly accompanies The Cap’s amazing light projections. This version did not disappoint, not to mention Phil killed it vocally. Jefferson Airplane cut, “Somebody to Love” came after with Nicki Bluhm providing lead vocals, flawlessly channeling a young Grace Slick. Finally, to cap off the first set there was a fun Scott Metzger led, “Feel Like a Stranger.”
After a standard break, set two did not hesitate to kick into full force, busting right into a Jerry Garcia favorite, “Deal.” After some energetically belted out blues jamming, the freight train continued to run as the blues standard, “Walkin’ Blues” vocally led by Luther Dickinson slammed into the audience with full force. Following the standard came one of the biggest surprises of the night.
An amazing rendition of The Allman Brothers Band’s “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” seemed to creep up out of thin air. This version of the great instrumental track featured some amazing interplay between all musicians. Among being a huge talent regarding multiple instruments, Crosby is an unreal pianist, while Metzger, Dickinson and Sless are all very accomplished lead guitar players. So, as any musician knows, great lead players can sometimes have an unforgivable ego boost when holding their instrument. Therefore, it was great to see the amount of respect the band had for each other, allowing proper space for each player to cut through, trading off and finishing each other’s licks, while individually taking extended solos only when the music called for it. “Elizabeth Reed” was the epitome of the bands musical relationship and chemistry.
The final note of “Elizabeth Reed” was proceeded by a quick moment of silence. Some noodles broke the silence, while slightly teasing what was to come. What came happened to be the darkly satisfying sing-along, “New Speedway Boogie.” Right out of “New Speedway” was a complete direction shift of musical emotion. A blissful beckoning for “The Wheel” was called for by Phil as he played the recognizable, coherent bass-line to the tune. The bliss continued as “The Wheel” turned into “Lady With a Fan” and the crowd and I were filled with joy since we new where we were heading from that point. The train never stopped, taking us all straight to “Terrapin Station.” The smiling faces of the audience howled at the “brand-new crescent moon” on the very second we arrived. Not one person could have been happier about our destination.
“Terrapin” came to a close and the set finished with a fun “In the Midnight Hour.” Knowing Phil, he usually likes to give the sets some sort of connection or story, so after this song I was instantly asking myself, “What will happen at midnight?” “Will there be a crazy bust-out encore?” After the routine “Donor Rap” the band joined Phil on stage. Anticipating what was to come, my friend turns to me and just calls out “The Music Never Stopped.” I just shrugged my shoulders, with no expectation for that song at all. In fact, I did not think it was gonna be played at all because it did not seem fitting. Sure enough, a fat groove surfaced and it became apparent and it was indeed, “The Music Never Stopped.” We both excitedly gave each other a high-five and I recalled the hints given to us in the second set ender, “In the Midnight Hour.”
The Capitol Theatre saw an amazing show on October 29th, 2016. As usual Phil and his selected friends gave Portchester, NY a night to remember, proving that the people and the town still have heart. Without a doubt, any newcomers would have been converted to the amazing community of The Cap.